With meticulous precision, Bettina Krieg creates large-format, monochrome landscapes that alternate between figuration and abstraction. The wealth of detail in these vast realms composed of innumerable, accurately accomplished strokes literally pulls the viewer in. After studying in Berlin, Marseilles and Canberra, and completing numerous residencies all over the globe, Bettina now once again lives and works in Berlin, where we paid her a visit in her Kreuzberg studio.
PORTRAITS: Franziska Taffelt
1. THE BLIND TASTING
COPAL AZUR BY AEDES DE VENUSTAS
We confronted Bettina Krieg with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Bettina on her journey into scent …
“Sad, dramatic, but very beautiful.”
The woman who wears this kind of scent is a creative mind: alert, intelligent and interested. And she is elegantly dressed in fine fabrics in pastel tones —in silks, primarily. She’s in her mid thirties and I can imagine she’s a writer and filmmaker. This is a woman in search of her roots. She spent her childhood and teens in the States, but has since come to Germany because her father came from here. Her mother is Scandinavian: hence, the legacy of a fine, light skin tone. She never knew her father. Did he leave his wife and child or did he die? She has no idea. Yet her father has been palpably present her whole life long, conjured into being by the very fact she misses him so much.
Now she is here, to solve the riddle. She wants to know where she comes from. It is a sad, dramatic and yet also very beautiful story. I am certain she will grow very close to her father on this journey and perhaps even manage to solve the riddle. She is travelling alone. She receives a great deal of help from the people she meets and will surely find peace. That is vital, for it will leave her free to start a family of her own. Perhaps her search will become the subject of a film she will direct herself: a self-exploratory fusion of documentary and fiction.
I sense that her story is also tied up in some way with Berlin yet the answer to her riddle will be found by the sea — not on the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, but in the northeast of Germany; for this scent has the freshness as well as the gentleness of the Baltic. And the Baltic Sea, after all, is like a big lake.
I too grew up far removed from city life, in a village in the Spessart region of Germany. Behind our house there was a meadow, fringed on its far side by a forest. I was always aware of the forest. I’d see it standing sentinel there, whenever I looked out the window. This perfume reminds me of its scent: a clearing in bloom in summertime, and me crushing petals between my palms, or mosses; the moist earth — and the sheer calm of it all. Sometimes it could feel a bit creepy there too: this mixture of wellbeing and not knowing what might be lying in wait behind the next tree. But apart from a few wild boars I never ran into danger there. And I still take a long walk in the woods whenever I go home — but sadly without the dog, nowadays.
At first I imagined this perfume had very little to do with me. But I’m fascinated now by how many memories it has sparked. I don’t know anyone who smells like this.
2. THE INTERVIEW
“A perfume to open up people’s hearts.”
Helder Suffenplan: What is your earliest memory of scent?
Bettina Krieg: I recall the smell of timber intensely. My father often worked with wood and so I used to find him covered in wood-shavings: all over his jeans and white T-shirt as well as his skin. And when I played with the wood-shavings, they stuck to me too. I also recall the smell of the resin that would sometimes still be oozing from the timber. And also how my dog smelt in summer: the dried earth on its paws and its soft, somewhat greasy fur. That, for me, was the smell of home, and deeply reassuring.
SC: Was perfume worn in your family circle?
BK: No, not really. My mother had a bottle of perfume that she had presumably been given as a gift sometime. But I cannot recall her ever using it. As for my father, only aftershave comes to mind.
SC: Which was your first perfume?
BK: I discovered perfume thanks to some friends. They wore Jil Sander’s Sun or something or other from Oilily. I found it sort of interesting but I didn’t really click with it. Then when I turned seventeen I was given my first perfume ever and I absolutely loved it! Unfortunately, I no longer know which brand it was; only that the bottle was red.
SC: Who made you that gift?
BK: I was a volunteer at the time in a care home for the elderly and sick and looked after one old lady in particular. It was her daughter who made me the gift on my seventeenth birthday. I was incredibly proud and I thought: Wow! I’ve now reached the stage in life when I’ll be given gifts of perfume!
SC: Which was the first perfume you bought for yourself?
BK: I’ve never once bought perfume for myself. I try out various fragrances whenever I’m at an airport but that mostly gives me a headache. So I’m actually still in search of the perfect perfume.
SC: Does that mean you use no perfume at all at the moment?
BK: My ex-boyfriend gave me a perfume shortly after we split up, one that I really loved and wore almost every day, down to the last drop. That was Ambre from L’Occitane. Then for my thirtieth birthday he gave me Voyage en Méditerranée, likewise from L’Occitane. That’s now almost empty so I had my best friend choose a new one for my last birthday and she picked out Rancé’s Eau Superbe for me.
SC: That’s very bold of you, to have someone else choose your perfume!
BK: Yes, but I trusted her, since she knows me very well. I’m still experimenting with the perfume and gathering feedback.
SC: Why do you look for perfume at airports rather than in perfume stores?
BK: I resolve from time to time to visit a really good perfume store, preferably in the company of a good girlfriend or boyfriend. And if that occasion ever transpires I’ll have the perfume of my choice put in the wonderful Art Deco flacon that my aunt once made me a gift of.
SC: How much does it matter to you how the people around you smell?
BK: A lot! I prefer it when scents remain subtle and merge well with the wearer’s personal odor. If a perfume is too overwhelming it makes me aggressive, because it prevents me from really sensing the person wearing it. Like when people keep their sunglasses on while you’re talking to them — it’s a mask!
SC: Which do you think is the best smell of all?
BK: Which scent makes me feel really good, the instant I smell it? Well, childhood holidays in ex-Yugoslavia spring to mind: the smell of pine needles which have fallen on arid ground and are drying in the sun — a slightly sweet and absolutely potent smell.
SC: Would you find it exciting to have a perfumer create a special scent just for you?
BK: Very exciting!
SC: How would you brief the perfumer?
BK: I would show him Ambre yet tell him that I’d now prefer something a little more fresh and clear-cut. And I’d mention the pine needles in Yugoslavia. It wouldn’t have to smell exactly like them but definitely to have the same effect, namely to open up people’s hearts! It would be fascinating to see what she or he then came up with …
SC: Thank you, Bettina!
ABOUT BETTINA KRIEG
Name: Bettina Krieg
ABOUT THE PERFUME
Perfume: Copal Azure by Aedes de Venustas
Perfumer: Bertrand Duchaufour
This blind tasting was first posted on Jan. 22. 2016.